PewterReport.com analyzes the top players in the 2021 NFL Draft with its’ position previews. Jon Ledyard previews the safeties position with a comprehensive look at what the Bucs have and what they need in the secondary, while also providing a detailed list of this year’s top safeties. In addition, Scott Reynolds offers up the team needs and the annual PewterReport.com Bucs’ Best Bets – the most likely safeties for the Bucs to select in Rounds 1-3, and in Rounds 4-7.
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What The Bucs Have At Safety
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The Bucs are set at safety for this season. The past few years general manager Jason Licht has flooded the secondary and create a very comfortable depth chart at safety. The Bucs have fourth-year pro Jordan Whitehead at strong safety. He is at his best when playing in the box and moving downhill. Whitehead plays with reckless abandon for his own safety. He’s a sure tackler and the team really likes what they have there.
Tampa Bay selected free safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. in the second round of last year’s draft. He would go on to have a highly-successful rookie campaign before his iconic taunting penalty in Super Bowl LV. Behind Whitehead and Winfield the Bucs have third-year safety Mike Edwards. He played great in rotation at both safety spots last year, despite losing a starting gig to Winfield in camp.
What The Bucs Need At Safety
The Bucs head into the 2021 NFL Draft needing depth at the position and any potential addition would likely be limited to competing with Javon Hagan for the fourth safety spot now that Andrew Adams has signed with Philadelphia this offseason. Given the chance, the Bucs could pick up a young box safety to compete at strong safety in case Whitehead isn’t re-signed in 2022.
Top Safeties In 2021 NFL Draft
1. TCU S Trevon Moehrig – Junior – 6-1, 202, 4.50
Moehrig has length, he hits hard and made a ton of plays on the ball. He had seven interceptions, 21 passes defended, two forced fumbles and 4.5 tackles for loss over in three years at TCU. Versatile in his play, Moehrig can make an impact all over the field. He primarily played in half-field coverage at safety and took 172 snaps at free safety, 198 snaps in the box and 313 snaps at slot corner in 2020. He can play in a deep zone, he can line up in man, he can work in the box. And he’s not afraid to come up and make a tackle. If versatility is what a team wants, Moegrig brings that in spades.
2. Oregon S Jevon Holland – 6-1, 207, 4.46
While Holland doesn’t possess an elite athletic profile, he’s an aggressive safety who regularly lined up in the slot and had a ton of production at Oregon. Over his two years seeing playing time with the Ducks, Holland totaled nine interceptions and 11 pass breakups. He has the positional flexibility to line up in the slot or at deep safety. While he doesn’t bring much to the table as a box safety, he possesses the size and instincts needed to start.
3. UCF S Richie Grant – 5-11, 197, 4.49
Grant was a fifth-year senior at UCF in 2020 and has grown steadily throughout his college career. After six interceptions as a sophomore in 2018, Grant finished with 10 total picks, 17 passes defended and five forced fumbles over his college career. In addition to his play deep he’s also made improvements near the line of scrimmage where he struggled early. And despite relatively average athleticism, he brings versatility and natural play-making ability to the position.
4. Florida State S Hamsah Nasirildeen – 6-3, 215, N/A
After tearing his ACL in 2019, Nasirildeen was able to nab an interception, a pass breakup and 1.5 tackles for loss over his two games in 2020. Nasirildeen is a jack of all trades at the position, playing essentially every role at Florida State from free safety, to box safety, to slot corner and even lining up out wide. He’s got great size and length. The 6-foot-3 defender tackles well, but generally lacks much quickness or burst. Despite his experience at a plethora of roles, he doesn’t necessarily stand out from a play-making or athletic standpoint.
5. Syracuse S Andre Cisco – 6-0, 209, N/A
Cisco was extremely productive at Syracuse before tearing his ACL in 2020. He totaled 26 interceptions and pass breakups over 24 total games. With seven interceptions in 2018, five interceptions in 2019 and one interception over just two games in 2020, Cisco could potentially be one of the most impactful deep safeties in this draft class. Despite his production, he does have a tendency to play overly aggressive. But if he can continue to make progress processing the game at the NFL level he could prove to be an extremely high-upside prospect.
6. Virginia Tech S Divine Deablo – 6-3, 226, 4.42
In addition to being on the All-Name Team, Deablo brings insane size to the position at 6-foot-3, 226 pounds. With that size comes limitations though as he primarily plays near the line of scrimmage and has limited athleticism for the position. He’s physical when tackling and plays under control. Deablo shows good balance and reads the game well, but the soon-to-be 23-year-old may be best suited as a linebacker in the NFL.
7. Indiana S Jamar Johnson – 6-2, 205, 4.58
A Sarasota native, Johnson is a smooth athlete who brings special coverage ability to the position. He flips his hips well and can patrol the field effectively as a previous starter in the slot and as a deep safety. Despite a less than ideal 40-yard dash and struggles tackling (18 misses on 80 attempts in his career), the things he does in coverage are next-level. Johnson totaled four pass breakups and four interceptions in 2020, with two of those picks coming against Ohio State.
Best Of The Rest
8. TCU S Ar’Darius Washington – 5-8, 178, 4.61
Washington is quick, but not particularly fast. He reads and reacts at a pro-ready level, he can hit and he makes plays on the ball but is simply very small for the position as he heads to the next level. While he played effectively at slot corner, at strong safety and frequently in half-field coverage at TCU, he will likely be limited to a slot corner in the NFL.
9. Cincinnati S James Wiggins – 5-11, 209, 4.40
Wiggins is an aggressive, downhill player who reads the game well and was a consistent play-maker at the college level. Unfortunately for Wiggins, a torn ACL and a meniscus injury in 2019 forced him to miss his entire junior season. He wasn’t quite the same in 2020. All things considered, Wiggins remains a good athlete who has shown his ability to make plays at the college level.
10. Missouri S Tyree Gillespie – 6-0, 207, 4.38
Gillespie was primarily used a deep safety at Missouri, playing 424 of his snaps in 2020 at free safety, but has struggles in coverage. He will more than likely translate to a box safety or dime safety at the NFL level. He’s got good burst, hits hard and plays well in run support. Yet he lacks the agility or anticipation to make a regular impact in the slot or in coverage one-on-one.
11. Syracuse S Trill Williams – 6-2, 198, 4.42
Williams started his time at Syracuse as an outside cornerback before being moved inside to the slot, where he played a majority of his snaps in 2020. He’s got good physicality and athleticism at the position but his skill set may leave his best option a move back to outside corner, however the shift inside limited what he was able to show there on tape over the past two seasons.
12. USC S Talanoa Hufanga – 6-1, 215, 4.61
Hufanga is a versatile and physical safety who lined up all over the field for the Trojans. He plays instinctual and has made improvements in the pass game, racking up four interceptions in 2020. His skill set allows him to bring positional versatility to the table and can potentially play in any scheme. Hufanga’s slow 40-time will hurt his draft stock.
13. Florida S Shawn Davis – 6-0, 206, N/A
A starter for the past two seasons, Davis played primarily in the box in 2019 before transitioning to deep safety in 2020. His coverage grades reflected where he’ll likely fit best at the NFL level. Davis earned an 82.4 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus in 2019 before regressing to just 60.8 in 2020. He’s explosive, plays great in the box and when defending the run, he’s at his best down near the line of scrimmage.
14. Texas S Caden Sterns – 6-0, 207, 4.40
Sterns is the prototypical size for the safety position. While he’s a bit limited physically, he provides good range and ball skills as a free safety playing deep. He tackles well but doesn’t play well enough defending the run to warrant much time in the box. But his ability to play as an effective deep safety and move down into the slot in a pinch leaves him as a promising developmental draft prospect.
15. Illinois State S Christian Uphoff – 6-0, 195, 4.64
Uphoff did it all at Illinois state, playing all over the field and even serving as the Redbirds’ kick returner. He was named an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honorable mention in 2018 on special teams. His play earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl where he was subsequently named the top safety on the National Team following their practices. He has some inconsistencies in his processing and angles to the ball but he provides a wealth of versatility heading into the draft.
Bucs’ Best Bets: Safeties
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 1-3: Virginia Tech S Divine Deablo
Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians said he wants defensive players that are fast, physical and love to play football. Deablo checks those boxes and brings something that the Bucs don’t have at the safety position – size. At 6-foot-3, 226 pounds, Deablo is built like a linebacker, but fluid enough to play safety. With 4.44 speed and 33-inch arms, Deablo can cover ground and blanket receivers with his enormous 79-inch wingspan.
Deablo is a physical striker, who excels in the box near the line of scrimmage. He totaled 206 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss for the Hokies. Deablo broke up 17 passes and picked off six more in his four years at Virginia Tech. He’s coming off a senior year in which he was a team captain and totaled eight pass breakups and four INTs. Deablo would be a great draft pick in the third round at the end of Day 2.
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 4-7: Cincinnati S James Wiggins
Wiggins has good size at 5-foot-11, 209 pounds and a muscular, chiseled frame. He packs a punch when he hits receivers across the middle or in the run game. Wiggins battled some injuries at Cincinnati, including a knee injury that cost him the 2019 season. But in 2018, the Miami native totaled 54 tackles, nine pass breakups and four interceptions. Three of those picks were game-clinching turnovers, including a game-winning pick-six versus SMU.
Wiggins rebounded in 2020 and was named a first-team All-American. He had 32 tackles, seven pass breakups, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception in nine games. Wiggins ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, suggesting his knee injury is a thing of the past. A three-year member of Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks” list, Wiggins would be a great addition in Tampa Bay in the fourth or fifth round of the draft.